When Ryan Humbert was approached by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to perform a tribute to the late Roy Orbison a few years back, he knew it was an honor and and would be a tremendous challenge. This past weekend, Humbert, who considers Orbison a major influence, got to pay homage to the legendary rock balladeer two more times, much to the delight of local Canton audiences. Practice makes perfect. During “Only The Lonely- A Tribute to Roy Orbison” the fundraising sponsored by the Canton Cabaret’s Rainbow Repertory, the Ryan Humbert Band took a crowd of a few hundred Friday and Saturday, down memory lane at the Metropolitan Centre Grand Ballroom off Sixth Street, NW. If you know anything about Orbison, it was his remarkably high octave range which endeared him to thousands of fans over an illustrious thirty-plus-year career. Humbert explained on both nights that he was “…not going to try to sound just like” Orbison, but rather perform his interpretation of the late great star’s songs. And that he did. Humbert mixed full band numbers, duets with backing vocalist Emily Bates and singing with guitar of RHB guitarist Erin Vaughn. There were even violins interwoven throught the two nights, as the set list for each night was near identical, with an acoustic version of “Candyman” added Saturday night. Humbert and band: keyboardist Ben Evans, drummer Matt Middelton, bassist Jared Lees, along with Vaughn and Bates, put on a good show on Friday.
They put on a great show Saturday night. The familiarity of the material was a given on both nights, but it was the crowd reaction on the second night to which RHB responded best. The depth of drama characterized by Orbison’s tearjerkers was filled fabulously with a subtle strings section undercurrent. The violin talents of Michelle George, Alena Merimee and Donna Dehn on Friday, and Cindy Wolf and George and Dehn on Saturday were felt on a dozen numbers each night. Much like Orbison, Humbert displayed his vocal power and range, albeit an octave lower than the near impossible high-ring decibel delivery that was Orbison’s trademark. But charisma, showmanship, talent and endurance were on Humbert’s side as he and his band made 25 Orbison classics their own. Set one highlights, included the show title track, “Only the Lonely”, “In Dreams”, “Running Scared” and “Love Hurts”. Set Two, Humbert and band loaded up the hits, and delivered “Blue Bayou”, Dream Baby” “Cryin”, “You Got It” and “Pretty Woman”. Humbert added for good measure a few songs Orbison made popular during his time with rock all-star assembly, The Traveling Wilburys. Humbert and band did a lively version of TW’s “End of the Line”. While Humbert was the sole common thread throughout, one of the highlights each night came from sidekick Bates. The Greencastle, Indiana native was given the task of soloing on the hard-driving rock ballad “I Drove All Night”. This allowed Humbert a pause before winding up each night. From start to finish Bates simply nailed the number as she belted out with the perfect balance of volume and emotion. She was duly rewarded with thunderous applaud. On Night Two, following Bates feat, Humbert took control on “End of the Line”, and he and band were joined by a rush of 20-30 audience members who danced in front of the stage, and did not stop until the show ended. All in all, the shows were great translations by Humbert and band. The only variable that stood out more as a surprise was the sequestering of Lees and Vaughn in the background. The two who are used to occasionally moving around on stage in usual RHB show style were hidden in the background. As the performance reached it crescendo a better acknowledgement of their presence, was earned, as were Evans’s and Middleton’s. Aside from that minor detail, Humbert and band raised a few dollars, and with it the fun level of both band and audience, as only a successful tribute show can do. Orbison would have agreed, loneliness could never have been more fun.